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Set play

Macbeth

Salisbury Playhouse

There's a treat in store at Salisbury Playhouse. Artistic director Joanna Read's Macbeth is set in the round, lending dramatic immediacy to the Scottish play. Encircling the actors will heighten the audience's engagement, and Read believes that the space created is liberating. "It's a very accessible way of doing Shakespeare," she says.

Just as importantly, the space fruitfully serves the ritual that throbs through the play. The hypnotic, magical revolving of the witches' language and movement can be more effectively realised within the compass of the circle. There won't be a cauldron, but the apparitions will be eerily conjured up.

The other-worldly sense of the production is deepened by its setting in the distant past. This Scotland is archaic, patriarchal and monarchic, a world of battles, and of warriors who believe unflinchingly in the divine right of kings and in the supernatural. Witches, ghosts, spirits are part of everyday existence.

Evil is a very real presence, as manifest as the sun and moon. Murdering King Duncan will make that evil truly palpable.

Having previously directed The Winter's Tale, Readsees advantages in the language of Macbeth. For her, it is richly ambiguous and imaginative, but much more explicit than in that late play. It helps actors and audience alike to understand the hearts and minds of each character. "The language may be compressed, but the implication of what's being said is always clear."

Read sees Macbeth as enthralled and excited by the witches' prophecies, and in control of himself right up to the murder of Duncan.

"But that's where he begins to lose it. The frightening consequences of what he's done come home to him in that chilling moment when he hears the voice cry, 'Macbeth does murder sleep'. That's where his torment begins."

Read is sure that Lady Macbeth is not innately evil. She is a woman in a man's world, and the relationship with her husband is not that of equals. But Read sees the Macbeths as needing each other and loving each other. "Throughout the play that need and that love is tested by the choices they make." Watching how those choices are made and how that testing unfolds will be thrilling theatre.

REX GIBSON

Macbeth opens at Salisbury Playhouse on March 16.Box Office: 01722 320333

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